Interview

The landscape, the light, the smells of Ghana

Take a look at the photography of Karina Illovska. It’s like closing your eyes in front of a world map and pointing at random, only when you open them, you find yourself truly amongst it: “the landscape, the light, the smells” of a city far across the globe.

TAH: Hi Karina! I know that these days, you live and work in Sydney. Were you raised here? Karina: Yes, I call Sydney home although I was born in Slovakia. My parents and I escaped the communist country in ‘86 and settled in Australia. First Melbourne, then Sydney and I have been living here ever since. My dad was a keen traveller. I think I take after him. I photograph full time, mainly property and weddings. I’ve promised myself to try and make a trip once a year to a place I haven’t been. For the past six years I’ve done this. It’s something I really look forward to and love.

To me, travelling is waking up. While I’m home I’m in a routine mostly and kind of sleep walking. Travelling keeps you alert. All your senses are heightened.

The photographs in Ghana, was it the first time you’d been? Yes, one trip and it was the first. Hopefully there will be more! My partner is Ghanian. I’d been bugging him to take me there forever until we finally did go in 2010. My fresh foreign eyes loved it. To me, travelling is waking up. While I’m home I’m in a routine mostly and kind of sleep walking. Travelling keeps you alert. All your senses are heightened. This was a slightly different experience, a little more comfortable as I was there with someone from the culture and we stayed with family. So unlike some of the other places I have been where I was a complete stranger, I felt a little closer and accepted by the people. We mostly stayed in Accra the capital. I had an eye for the tiny, colourful stores covered by red earth. They are mostly made from used shipping containers and are named with some biblical connotation, like the one in the photograph below which says “Good Shepherd Beauty Salon”. I photographed so many shops just like this one. I just like the way they looked. There is no order to them amongst the landscape, the light, the smells. The streets seemed like chaos to me but I know that from the inside there is an order and purpose for everything. It is all bound together by people working complementary to one another as a whole.
I was reading a VICE article about New York photographer, Paul Strand. It said something like, he would go to the place he wanted to shoot and just wait for hours not doing anything until people around him didn’t notice him anymore. Do you ever feel conspicuous with your camera? I like that very much. I do my best to be unnoticed and just camouflage into the environment. At times it works. Although in a lot of places like Ghana I stood out no matter what. Sometimes you just have to work with it.

I do my best to be unnoticed and just camouflage into the environment.

What is your approach when photographing in a new place? I try to not have one. I try not to have an agenda or too much of an idea of what I want to shoot. I just like to be present and everywhere and let pictures find me or create them as I go. Otherwise I think you miss things if you are too caught up on looking for something. I like shooting life happening. Really just capture moments that mean something to me and hopefully allow others to see how I see the world. Keeping it simple and honest.
Are you ever surprised or worried how people will react in front of the camera? Yes, all the time. You never know how someone will react. I kind of like that anticipation just before you snap someone… Will they be ok with it…? Will they chase me down the street…? I worry sometimes. It varies from culture to culture too. I found in India, people were a little more suspicious of me. Whereas in Ghana I had people chasing me yelling, “Snap me! Snap me!”
Have there been difficulties you’ve encountered while photographing abroad? Of course, I think difficulties come with traveling to foreign places. There are language and cultural barriers. A lot of things get lost in translation sometimes. I feel in some places people see me as walking dollar signs. As a white woman as much as I want to blend into the culture and environment and connect, I’m always an outsider looking in. What do you hope your photographs do for people? I really just try to keep it simple and honest. I shoot because it allows me to be present and really see and remember a moment in time. All I really want to do is share my eye with others if they allow me to.
I think the photographs shot through this blur of the crowd are very striking. What is your favourite shot from the series? That’s hard… I don’t think I can pick a favourite but I do like those ones also. I enjoyed shooting them. I like the idea of not being seen and not setting up shots. Really just capturing a moment as it was. It was easier to do in that instance. There were hundreds of people passing through that marketplace. I was pressed up against someone’s armpit at all times. Everyone was busying trying to get to their destination they had no time to look at the little white girl trying to snap them.

I was informed that children get these tattoos when they are taken from their families to work in the city so they don’t forget and can be identified to what tribe they belong to.

There’s one picture in particular that touches me. The one of the girl in the pink shawl with the three tattooed lines on her face. I was informed that children get these tattoos when they are taken from their families to work in the city so they don’t forget and can be identified to what tribe they belong to.   Interview by Emilia Batchelor at The Adventure Handbook, Images and Words by Karina Illovska


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